Red Yeast Rice: The Statin Stand-in

Red Yeast Rice: The Statin Stand-in

The Spartan Guide to Red Yeast Rice

The Claim Red yeast rice is an extract from rice that’s been fermented with a yeast called monascus purpureus, which gives it its purple-red color. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has long been used to lower cholesterol levels.

The Evidence Bear with us: One of the primary active ingredients in red yeast rice is called monacolin K, which is fantastic for lowering cholesterol. In fact, you might know it by its other name, lovastatin, the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor. Despite that fact that red yeast rice extract has been used in Asia for thousands of years, the drug company that owns Mevacor has argued that it owns the right to lovastatin. And in 2007, the FDA removed three red-yeast-rice supplements from the market because they contained the ingredient. (Go figure.)

Still, red yeast rice extract isn’t hard to buy online these days, and a doctor can help you find a reputable brand. “I use red yeast rice to lower cholesterol in people who have borderline or high cholesterol—instead of prescribing a statin,” says Susan Blum, M.D., an integrative physician and founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. “People tend to have less side effects from taking red yeast rice because it has the same active ingredient as the statins, but because the compound is in its natural state, the body seems to handle it better.” Research suggests that using red yeast rice may cut LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by 10 to 33 percent—which is potent, but still moderate compared to FDA-approved statin drugs.

How to Use It “I always retest cholesterol after three months to see if [the red yeast rice] is working,” Dr. Blum says. “And I always remind people that taking this supplement to lower cholesterol doesn’t mean that they can eat whatever they want.” To maximize the benefits, you’ll also need a low-glycemic, high-fiber diet rich in good fats and low in animal products. Dr. Blum recommends a Mediterranean diet.